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ECS P55H-A

P55 On A Budget: Five Core i5/i7 Motherboards For $100-$150
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Famed for its low-cost products, Elitegroup Computer Systems has also produced a performance-oriented “Black Series” for several years to gain recognition among enthusiasts. Black Series motherboards also provide moderate feature and BIOS enhancements compared to the company’s other products, and the P55H-A is no exception. Internal power and reset buttons, a Port 80 diagnostics display, and an I/O panel CLR_CMOS button set the P55H-A apart from less expensive ECS products, while setting it ahead of similarly-priced models from better-known “enthusiast” brands.

A row of electronic pathway switches above the upper PCIe slot allows you to change modes from single x16 to dual x8 pathways when a second graphics card is installed, potentially making this a better choice than models limited to x16/x4 when building for high-end CrossFire graphics solutions. A x4 slot two positions below the upper slot provides enhanced bandwidth for medium-performance add-in cards, but its closed end unfortunately prevents use with longer x8 and x16 expansion cards.

While normally a freebie function of the multi-I/O controller, ECS includes no physical connection for the floppy drive that many Windows XP users require for adding RAID drivers during installation, but still includes the “added-cost” Ultra ATA interface. Though often added as a way to address older and low-cost optical drives, ECS places the Ultra ATA header beneath the lowest PCI slot where cable length issues generally restrict it to lower-bay hard drives.

A full-sized PCB has none of the physical support issues that plague smaller boards, but ECS still crowds the DIMM slots by moving its LGA 1156 interface forward, preventing some oversized coolers from being used in combination with four DIMMs. We’ll revisit that in our Test Settings page.

Our only other layout concern is the front-panel audio header in the bottom rear corner, a location that makes connecting top-panel or upper-bay jacks extremely difficult. This standard is one that should be abandoned, since most cases have front-panel jacks near the motherboard’s opposite corner.

BIOS

While the P55H-A hails from ECS’ Black Series enthusiast product line, its BIOS is best-targeted towards beginning overclockers. Only the most important settings are available in its simplified overclocking menu.

Changing the Performance Level control allows access to CPU multipliers, a setting we left alone during benchmarks so as not to inhibit Intel’s Turbo Boost function. Beneath it are DRAM and memory latency settings that worked perfectly for us, which were a vast improvement over the non-functional settings of previous-generation Black Series motherboards.

CPU Vcore and Uncore voltage levels are both adjustable, which along with DIMM and PCH voltage, allow the board to achieve remarkable speeds given its limited menu options.

Accessories

ECS includes four right-angle SATA cables, an 80-conductor Ultra ATA ribbon, a driver CD, and a Linux-based OS. The “light” OS appears to be ECS’ answer to Asus’ Express Gate and can be loaded onto a hard drive before the main operating system is installed to allow fast access to integrated applications.

One other minor issue we must mention is that the autoloader for ECS’ driver CD doesn’t work with Windows 7. Users must instead install drivers manually if desired, at least until ECS starts issuing a new version of the disc.

Display all 81 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    dirtmountain , October 8, 2009 7:05 AM
    The Asrock P55 Pro is 16x-4x, not 8x-8x.
    http://www.asrock.com/mb/overview.asp?Model=P55%20Pro
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157171
    The Asrock P55 Extreme at $140 offers 8x-8x
  • 4 Hide
    JeanLuc , October 8, 2009 8:44 AM
    Good read but it really just confirms what a lot of us have known for a long time. Don't buy budget motherboards (MSI, ASrock, ECS) if you want to overclock and it's no coincidence that the boards from Gigabyte and Asus passed with flying colours as these companies clearly have proper testing procedures in place and quality assurance measures to avoid such issues.
  • 0 Hide
    evongugg , October 8, 2009 11:29 AM
    Another great article from Tom's, letting us know about how one of these motherboards can burn your CPU. Never would have known without you.
    Might have burnt out a CPU and not know the cause.

  • -4 Hide
    Crydee , October 8, 2009 12:06 PM
    How would P55 stack up against non P55s is what I wanted to see as well. See if the premium is worth it over the more budget friendly P55.
  • 0 Hide
    LATTEH , October 8, 2009 1:01 PM
    nice article i liked it!
  • 0 Hide
    avatar_raq , October 8, 2009 1:26 PM
    Unfortunately neither Gigabbyte nor ASUS boards offer the 8x8x PCI-e slots for multiple GPUs. I think it's better to wait for their premium brethren to fall below $150 before upgrading.
  • 1 Hide
    SchizoFrog , October 8, 2009 1:52 PM
    For the extra $20 you can get the ASUS P7P55D PRO which is a much better board and offers the full spec for multi GPUs... However, I personally can only recommend what I would do myself and that is to wait. There are a lot of major PC spec changes over the next 6 months. So I am waiting for USB3 and SATA3 to make it to mainstream.
  • -4 Hide
    SchizoFrog , October 8, 2009 1:52 PM
    For the extra $20 you can get the ASUS P7P55D PRO which is a much better board and offers the full spec for multi GPUs... However, I personally can only recommend what I would do myself and that is to wait. There are a lot of major PC spec changes over the next 6 months. So I am waiting for USB3 and SATA3 to make it to mainstream.
  • -4 Hide
    helms , October 8, 2009 1:54 PM
    I doubt their quality assurance is as good as you think Jeanluc. Both Gigabyte and Asus make crap DDR3 controllers for socket 775 motherboards. I've tested a heap of DDR3 socket 775 boards from Asus and Gigabyte, the Asus P5Q3 in particular is causing a lot of problems. When paired with a quad core cpu (everything stock) and running 3 threads prime(blend) + furmark, the system would inevitably freeze in under 2hr's (usually within the 30 minutes mark, quite a bit less than 2hrs). In fact systems with those boards would freeze even during normal non PC intensive use such as browsing the internet. Running prime+furmark just forces it happen rather than waiting for it to freeze which is quite random during light use like word prcoessing. I doubt Asus even realizes that their P5Q3 is a faulty product and shouldn't have hit retail stores. They have been selling the P5Q3 for ages. They probably tested the board with a cheap dual core celeron and since it worked with that called it a day.
  • 0 Hide
    burnley14 , October 8, 2009 2:18 PM
    JeanlucGood read but it really just confirms what a lot of us have known for a long time. Don't buy budget motherboards (MSI, ASrock, ECS) if you want to overclock and it's no coincidence that the boards from Gigabyte and Asus passed with flying colours as these companies clearly have proper testing procedures in place and quality assurance measures to avoid such issues.


    I think you're jumping to conclusions here. Tom's reviewed some boards a while back for the 1366 socket and gave ASRock first place for quality and value.
  • 0 Hide
    avatar_raq , October 8, 2009 2:24 PM
    @ schizofrog :
    Yeah and the GIGABYTE GA-P55-UD4P is priced similarly and sports 8x8x configuration and more SATA ports.
    I believe well-featured P55 mobos are still expensive for the mainstream market.
  • -2 Hide
    oldscotch , October 8, 2009 2:35 PM
    Still getting two or three PCI slots on these new boards. I can see one, and I realize they're budget boards - but still. I'd much rather see some more x4 PCI-e or even just x1 options that would give graphics cards some breathing room.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , October 8, 2009 3:00 PM
    helmsI doubt their quality assurance is as good as you think Jeanluc. Both Gigabyte and Asus make crap DDR3 controllers for socket 775 motherboards.


    Intel made the memory controllers on Asus and Gigabyte P45/X48 motherboards. If it fails after two hours, there's a chance you're using inferior-quality memory.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , October 8, 2009 3:03 PM
    oldscotchStill getting two or three PCI slots on these new boards. I can see one, and I realize they're budget boards - but still. I'd much rather see some more x4 PCI-e or even just x1 options that would give graphics cards some breathing room.


    They're already using up all the PCIe lanes, when they put a second x16 slot on a board and feed it with four of the P55's eight. Sorry, the P55 isn't designed to support a buch of high-bandwidth slots, that's what the X58's for.
  • 1 Hide
    alexie , October 8, 2009 3:09 PM
    My question is
    "will there be a chipset made by Nvidia for 1366 socket or 1156 socket intel cpus?"
    Cause Nvidia is making good chipsets with both on-board VGA for mainstream and upper mainstream cpus.
  • 0 Hide
    ceteras , October 8, 2009 3:26 PM
    alexieMy question is"will there be a chipset made by Nvidia for 1366 socket or 1156 socket intel cpus?"Cause Nvidia is making good chipsets with both on-board VGA for mainstream and upper mainstream cpus.


    The answer is NO
  • 0 Hide
    murst , October 8, 2009 3:35 PM
    The ECS P55H-A has a power connector for the graphics card next to the pci express 16x slot. My graphics card ( Radeon 5850 ) already has 2 power connectors on it.

    Do all 3 power connectors need to be hooked up? Thanks!
  • -1 Hide
    lafanzy , October 8, 2009 3:44 PM
    Quite an irritating writeup I'd say. Sarcastic and vague comments with strong emphasis on avoidance in getting to the point. i like to call it bias, but, i haven't tested all the mobos myself. What do I get out of this article? How to kill a good article title in five.
  • 1 Hide
    ceteras , October 8, 2009 3:47 PM
    I wonder how cheap can they build a mainboard with no extra features (no overclocking support, no bells&whistles). Just the bare needed to keep the cpu working at it's default potential.
    I'd like one of these.
  • 2 Hide
    Sunburn74 , October 8, 2009 4:05 PM
    Hey, can you guys start testing if S3 sleep is maintained at high overclocks? Gigabyte board look great on paper, but the fact is something like 80-90% of them cannot S3 sleep once you start overclocking past a certain point. My next mobo has to be able to overclock and keep the sleep feature intact. It takes one sec to test. Please include it in the future. Thanks
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